Why the Toronto Raptors inspire me— on the court and off

Craig Kielburger
Jun 20 · 3 min read

Toronto is alight with celebrations this week. Millions flooded the streets after the Raptors’ NBA Championship win on Thursday, and then again on Monday for the victory parade. Throughout the weekend, honking horns, joyful shouts, and hugging strangers were commonplace. I’ve never seen the city so elated, so inspired.

After such an incredible playoff journey, how could we be anything but inspired? Our ragtag team took on the legendary Golden State Warriors with indomitable courage — and won.

When I reflect on the road to the championship, so many inspiring moments come to mind. Longtime Raptor Kyle Lowry scoring an extraordinary 15 points in the first quarter of game 6. Fred VanVleet, taking a blow to the face, then returning in game 5 with a few stiches, a chipped tooth and a cheeky grin. And of course, Kawhi Leonard, performing in game after game under immense pressure, from the incredible buzzer beater that took the Raptors to the conference finals, to his flawless free throws in the final moments of the decisive game.

The Raptors have inspired me for many years, but not only for their incredible performances on the court. For nearly a decade, we’ve been grateful to partner with their parent organization, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) on community projects and service work, making impacts together at home and around the world. From day one, the team from MLSE has made it clear that they want to make a difference in people’s lives, not just by winning championships, but by giving back.

Each year, the MLSE sends staff overseas to volunteer at our development projects, building schools in rural communities where access to education is limited. Their staff also lead fundraisers for education projects, most recently raising over 15,000 dollars to build a classroom in an underserved area of rural Ecuador.

At home, the MLSE LaunchPad inspires and empowers young people through sport. The Toronto-based initiative provides sports programs for youth facing barriers in their lives, enabling young people to access new opportunities and reach their full potential. The program also gives leadership training, empowering youth to lead sports programs for kids in their communities. Last year, we had the chance to welcome the fantastic young leaders from LaunchPad to our camp in rural Ontario for a special day of training.

And athletes from MLSE continue to inspire long after the final whistle. In 2017, Toronto FC’s Dwayne De Rosario took the stage at WE Day to share the story of the Special Olympics Unified Team and recognize young changemakers in the audience. The soccer legend brought smiles to thousands of faces when he told 20,000 youth at Scotiabank Arena that their service actions were a source inspiration for him.

These acts inspire me as much as any buzzer-beating basket. A team of employees rolling up their sleeves to lay the literal foundations for education. Youth discovering that they can make change by taking a leadership role in their communities. A stadium full of young people learning from their sports heroes — and realizing that they can become heroes themselves.

The MLSE is creating a powerful legacy of service in this city, and we’re grateful to be part of it.

Craig Kielburger

Written by

New York Times bestselling author, syndicated columnist and co-founder of WE Charity and ME to WE Social Enterprise | @WEmovement | we.org | craigkielburger.com